I’ve been busy with life recently and haven’t had a ton of time so review any recent metal offerings (also, outside of an early Album of the Year contender from Rivers of Nihil, there hasn’t been all that much worth reviewing). So consider this my spring cleaning of album reviews:
Altars of Grief – Iris
My friends over at Metal Injection (I say “friends”, despite the fact that they don’t know who I am and refuse to answer my calls anymore) gave this one a 9.5/10, calling it “a nigh-peerless construct of somber beauty and one of the greatest doom metal albums in years”. That was more than enough to get me to listen to the record, even though I’d never heard of the Canadian doom metalers before. I can absolutely see what made Iris so appealing to the person who wrote that article, but this album has many peers, and it probably wasn’t even the best doom album the week it came out, let alone in the last few years.
First, the good: when Iris is heavy, it is really fucking heavy, whether via fast, ballistic black metal sections or slow, lurching doom metal movements. Iris can pack a punch when it wants to. And it certainly is ambitious, exploring many extreme metal sounds in its hour-long runtime, from black to doom metal, from progressive to atmospheric goth, without ever growing stale. For that, my Canadian friends, I applaud you.
However, Iris has some serious flaws that are really hard to overlook. First, its just too melodic. Bands like Pallbearer and Khemmis have laid out a blueprint for how to approach melody in doom metal in recent years, and Altars of Grief deviate wildly from that path, leading to a metal album that just isn’t metal enough, lacking the literal and figurative hooks to reel you in and keep you engaged. Second, they probably could have trimmed a solid 15 minutes from the runtime and had a more focused and engaging record without losing any substance. I have no problem when an album is five songs long when all five songs are great, and that’s what it feels like this record needed to be. Lastly, and most importantly, the clean vocals sound 100% identical to Benjamin Burnley from Breaking Benjamin. In extreme metal, that is an unforgivable sin, and it’s wildly distracting while listening to Iris.
“Desolation”, “Child of Light”
Ancst – Ghosts of the Timeless Void
On their Spotify page, Ancst describe themselves as “hardcore punk infused black metal”. That sounds great and all, but outside of the beginning of “Concrete Veins”, there’s not a whole lot of hardcore punk to be found in their sound, with it edging much closer to what I would say is blackened death metal (this is too bad, as the infrequent punk moments on Ghosts of the Timeless Void sound fantastic). The black metal sounds on the record are great, and with a sprinkling of death metal thrown in the record tends to be much more musically heavy than your typical black metal record, which tend to rely on atmospheric darkness. The album’s instrumentation carries it almost the entire way through before faltering on the last three tracks (when speed and brutality comprise most of the foundation of your sound, slowing things down and going melodic might not be the best idea, especially for three fucking songs).
The vocals on Ghosts of the Timeless Void are solid but grow somewhat monotonous throughout the course of the album, never wavering much from the baseline sound. Much more irritating, however, is that the flow of the vocals seems…off. During the faster-paced moments, the transition between words feels artificial, almost as if all the words were recorded separately and then edited together later, except the didn’t leave quite enough time in between to have it sound natural. It unfortunately detracts from an otherwise solid record vocally, with some relevant and powerful lyrics to boot.
“Dying Embers”, “Concrete Veins”
Bad Wolves – False Flags Volume One
I had such high hopes for this band after their debut single “Learn to Live” dropped back in early 2017. Sure, their early-2000’s metalcore vibe was a bit dated at that point, but I was the target audience for the band to resonate with. I came of age in the metal world with the sound they were trying to cultivate on that track, and I wanted to hear more. With people like Doc Coyle (God Forbid) and John Boecklin (DevilDriver) in tow, how could it go wrong?
It did. It went very wrong. The band’s second single, “A Toast to the Ghost” was hot garbage, and nothing on this EP is much better. They’ve unfortunately fallen into a groove of trying to sound like a Dollar Store version of Five Finger Death Punch (what do you call a Dollar Store version of an already shitty product? Penny Store?), with Tommy Vext’s clean vocals doing the most damage. When Bad Wolves are playing fast and angry, and Vext is screaming his face off, I can still see the potential that I once saw in the band (check out the beginning of “Better the Devil” if you don’t believe me). But not only are Vext’s cleans unable to carry the band, but the rest of the band slows everything down to accommodate them, bringing every song to a GRINDING-FUCKING-HALT when the melodic sections arrive.
It’s really too bad. There’s so much potential in this band, but they feel destined to become a FFDP clone. If they’re after that mainstream success, rather than any sort of artistic credibility, then more power to them. But they could be so much more.
I don’t know, maybe the Cranberries cover I guess?
The Crown – Cobra Speed Venom
I kept grumbling about this album after my first listen, thinking that it just couldn’t compare to The Black Dahlia Murder’s Nightbringers, far and away the best death metal record in recent memory and my #2 album for 2017. Sure, Cobra Speed Venom was good, but it wasn’t as evil, menacing, or catchy as Nightbringers was. It took me another couple listens to finally realize, “Who cares?”. Not every painting is the Mona Lisa, so does that mean that every non-Mona Lisa painting sucks? Cobra Speed Venom may not be the best death metal record ever, but it’s a damn fine death metal record, and one worthy of your attention.
Full of riffs so fast and furious that it would make all eight films of the franchise blush, Cobra Speed Venom is a wild ride that is perpetually on the verge of flying off the rails into complete chaos. Sure, it lacks the overarching terror of Nightbringers, but The Crown pack more than enough anger and venom into this record to satisfy any death metal fan. Bonus points awarded for “In the Name of Death”, which manages to sound like an arena-rock version of a Nails track, and “Necrohammer”, which is easily one of the top two songs this year with “Necro” in the title (Judas Priest’s “Necromancer”, for those who were interested). Bonus points lost for “We Avenge!” not being quite as epic as the song title itself (although the last third of the song is still pretty fucking epic).
“Destroyed by Madness”, “In the Name of Death”, “World War Machine”
Twitching Tongues – Gaining Purpose through Passionate Hatred
I totally understand that very few of you are going to enjoy this album as much as I do (although you’re wrong, but I get it), but I at least hope that you’ll agree that Twitching Tongues have created of the most unique and original sounds in metal today. Their brilliant idea of blending hardcore punk with vocals straight out of Page Hamilton’s (of Helmet fame) mouth, Gaining Purpose through Passionate Hatred is the musical embodiment of every hour of your youth that you spent playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. This record is energetic, passionate (although not hatredly so), and above all else, extremely fun to listen to, with its dirty and sleazy vibes bleeding through on every track, including the two excellent ballads “Forgive and Remember” and “Long Gone”.
I already know that vocalist Colin Young’s voice is going to drive some of you away, but stick with it and you’ll see that Gaining Purpose through Passionate Hatred is one of the most well-put together albums from beginning to end of this year. Be it the mournful, booming chorus of “AWOL (State of the Union)”, to the Slayer-esque feel of “The Sound of Pain”, Twitching Tongues make their truly original sound work in so many ways on this record.
“AWOL (State of the Union)”, “Kill for You”, “T.F.R.”